I can think of no place better to tackle complex, philosophical questions than the TV show Friends.
For example, "The One Where Pheobe Hates PBS." In this classic episode, Joey and Pheobe argue whether any act is truly selfless - meaning the receiver benefits, while the giver gets absolutely nothing.
Joey says no way; Pheobe believes selflessness must exist, and sets out to prove him wrong. As a last-ditch attempt, she donates money to PBS during a pledge drive, making sure Joey takes the call, landing him on TV. Giving money to an organization she hates, to help her friend. What could she possibly stand to gain?
Turns out - helping Joey made Phoebe feel good. That good feeling meant even this act wasn't truly selfless.
When I say volunteering has changed my life, it is not an exaggeration. During a particularly difficult time, I asked a friend for advice on how to pull myself out of the funk, and keep myself busy at the same time. I wasn't interested in getting lost in my work, and while my friends are wonderful, I knew they couldn't provide distractions forever.
My friend suggested volunteering. I researched Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Capital Region, Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region, and Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. All had online forms I could complete and submit. All required an interview and some training. BBBS required a background check that fell just short of an FBI investigation into my life, past and present (understandable).
Friends asked how I would keep up that pace. In the beginning, it was a little tough. Just remembering to schedule and stay on top of all the emails took some getting used to.
But immediately, I welcomed the distraction, and the feeling that I was helpful. I loved the idea that I could immerse myself in something that was important. Even things that may have seemed insignificant to me were a big deal to someone.
Over time, I have needed that distraction less and less. I'm no longer in a funk, and plenty busy with other stuff in my life. But I still love volunteering. Sometimes the demand is tough - but I have found it's worth the effort.
Giving my time, my resources, my ideas, my creativity, and my help has made me feel accomplished and valuable in a way that my work never could. I have met new friends and made new contacts. I have learned more and gained experience that will stay with me forever. I have a new perspective on just how lucky I am, and I value what I have and the people in my life more than ever.
I will continue to give, and hopefully I'll continue to contribute. I will always cherish the thank-yous and appreciation.
But volunteering will never, ever be selfless.